Four years ago, in a fit of frustration, I bought a deep fryer off of Craigslist. I needed a spring roll — a good spring roll, and I needed it badly.
And I knew I wasn't about to get one in a Chinese restaurant in Whistler, (for readers that aren't aware, the resort doesn't have a Chinese eatery!), so just to scratch that itch, I bought a package of prefab frozen spring rolls. The picture on the package had seduced me, and I was sucked in by its promise of crispy goodness.
Later, as I looked disgustedly at the now ready-to-eat soggy spring roll, devoid of any real filling or flavour, I vowed that I, Michele Bush, would not put up with another crappy spring roll again.
It was time to figure it out myself. (I just had to sneak the deep fryer past the spin class I had yet to attend, even though it was located in the same building I lived in.)
A few hours later, after a few experiments mixing elements from my favourite Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese spring rolls, I crunched into a truly delicious spring roll of my own making.
What's that old adage? Give Bushwoman a spring roll and she'll eat for a day, teach Bushwoman how to make her own damn spring rolls and she'll go up two pant sizes... yup, that's it.
After that success, I practiced making my own Chinese classics — wonton soup, hot and sour soup, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken — torturing my poor neighbours, I'm sure, with the heavenly smells wafting around the building. Soon, I felt confidant enough to accept a request to make Chinese for a large group.
"No sweat." I thought.
Well... cooking for four people is one thing, cooking for 14 is quite another.
It was up the coast on Savary Island in a very small kitchen when I realized Chinese food preparation requires a lot of chopping, and a lot of space, which we didn't have. I had completely underestimated cooking times, the number of large pans you need and the effect cornstarch had on sauces — easy does it or you're eating glue.
I vowed never to do it again. It was such a bad experience that even a whiff of sesame oil would trigger unpleasant thoughts about the stress of that night, and I'd find myself reaching for the vodka.
But after some time I felt determined to figure it out, and I did.
A few short years later, and boom — the Spring Roll Lady is born!
Woks and deep fryers in hand, I travel around and try to soothe the Chinese-food starved masses of Whistler, one dinner party at a time.
It's been quite the curve so far, as anyone who cooks knows — things can go sideways very quickly.
My first gig was for 14 Chinese tour guides — no pressure there. Happily, all went well and I was actually asked by the translator where I had studied in China. Moi? I'm still blushing. Little did they know that I had almost been maimed by airborn hot oil after a viscous gust of wind blew snow into my deep fryer.
I've cooked Chinese for 27 Kiwi guys who played a raucous game of beer pong, yelling at ear-popping volume for two solid hours. I still don't think I've recovered from hearing the term "Ya f'ing c'nts!" shrieked continually for 120 minutes (apparently that word is not as jarring Down Under.)
Once, my deep fryer broke down right when a party of 20 sat down for dinner — with three out of five menu items fry based.
I've discovered: That the sexiest looking and well equipped kitchen can have the worst knives, (I usually bring my own, but nope, not that time) and that electric burners from the '80s may glow red, but they're not hot, and that 20 year olds, even at a dinner party amongst their peers, are ridiculously involved in their phones — unless they're playing beer pong, of course.
I am, after all, cooking in people's homes, and every home and kitchen is vastly different to the next.
In one place I had to navigate on numerous occasions eight furry legs attached to two adorable golden retrievers that splayed themselves as efficiently as possible across my path to the deep fryer on the deck. (No doubt hoping that I would trip and send the chicken flying.)
I've also become aware that everyone has their special favourites when it comes to Chinese, and I'll try to accommodate.
"Can you make prawn chips with curry sauce?" one client asked. "Our takeaways in the U.K. have that." I couldn't help with that one.
"We really want a Peking Duck with Chinese pancakes, can you do that?" another client requested. That one led to an almost sleepless night fretting about the pancakes because I'd never made them. In the end, I figured it out, and watching the hostess shred the Peking duck with an expression of utter delight made it all worth it.
That's why I do it, really. Hauling around hot oil and heavy Rubbermaid containers in snowdrifts, rainstorms and more isn't easy, but Whistler needs its Chinese.
In fact, providing Chinese food should be declared an essential service. In the meantime, I'll be learning to make General Tso's chicken — I hear there's a Pique reporter hankering for some.
You can find Michele on Facebook at Spring Roll Lady, or by phone at 604-907-1495 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.